Discovering Herbs: Aesculus (Horse Chestnut)
This beautiful tree not only gladdens the eyes in May with its white flowers, but also gives us shiny brown conkers, which have been making themselves useful ever since the tree was imported from Asia in the sixteenth century.
Conkers were used as food for horses and cattle (possibly how it got its common name of Horse Chestnut) and were carried in the pocket as a protection against rheumatism by superstitious people who, apparently, had to obtain them by begging or stealing, for the protection to work!
However well that may have worked, herbalists soon discovered the effectiveness of Aesculus for piles. Witch hazel and oak were used for similar purposes but Aesculus was seen to have a more powerful effect on blood circulation. For this reason it was used for varicose veins and leg ulcers.
Skipping several centuries and bringing ourselves right up to date, a Cochrane Review of the evidence available from rigorous clinical trials assessed the effectiveness and safety of Aesculus extract taken orally, versus placebo, for ‘chronic venous insufficiency’ (leg pain, varicose veins, poor circulation to the legs) and concluded that Aesculus improved symptoms significantly.
Levels of leg pain were reduced and swollen legs went down. Aesculus achieves these results by toning the veins in the legs so that the blood flows more efficiently back up to the heart, instead of sitting in the lower limbs causing swollen veins and puffy legs. Over a period of time it strengthens the veins, making further developments in the way of varicose veins less likely. Due to its toning effect it is very useful for people worried about Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) when flying. Stronger, tighter veins are less productive of the clots that menace people on long haul flights. If you want it for this purpose it is best to take it for at least two weeks prior to the flight, and continue taking it until you return.